Shambling Heritage Sites of Kashmir

THE floods of 2014 created havoc in Kashmir resulting in loss of life and property. The devastation should have been a learning experience for the government but Kashmir is open to the same destruction as it was in 2014, says Saleem Beg, convener at Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).

According to a study by Arun Menon, though India has a large stock of heritage structures but lack of adequate quality and quantity of manpower is a serious bottleneck in India to address the gigantic task of understanding and protecting heritage structures from natural hazards.

Heritage sites are classified into two categories –one which are protected under law by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the state archives, and the other are the unprotected sites which are governed by some regulations and law. There are dedicated sources to look after the maintenance of the protected sites but the results are not satisfactory.

He says that there are around 100 archaeological sites in Jammu & Kashmir out of which 70 are with the central government and 30 are with the state but they are not ideally looked after by the concerned authorities. The state archaeological department does not have enough funds and technical support to look after the restoration of the historic sites, complains Beg.

The ASI Srinagar circle which looks after the protected site in J&K along with other central government departments was shifted to Jammu after the onset of militancy in Kashmir. Though many government departments were set up again in Kashmir after the conditions subsidize but ASI Srinagar circle is still based at Jammu according to INTACH convener.

A majority of sites protected by ASI Srinagar circle are in Kashmir but if the office is not functional it is bound to get difficult for subordinate units to perform properly. “The officer supposed to be here for 12 months doesn’t find time to come to Kashmir once in three months,” retorts the former Director-General of Tourism.

ASI Srinagar circle faces a shortage of staff and it is not manned by a full-fledged supervision archaeologist which has resulted in the deteriorating condition of the heritage sites in the valley.

Unplanned urbanization can also be attributed as one of the main threats to the heritage of Kashmir. Rapid urbanization has been done to meet the demands of the growing population which has resulted in illegal construction in many parts of the valley that has a direct impact on the cultural heritage.

A part of the Martand Sun temple in Anantnag has been converted into an apple orchard and the stones of the temple have been taken by the locals for domestic purpose. The park built in front of the historic site is well maintained by the authorities whereas the temple is left to wither. Many structures are in the same condition as the Martand temple.

The haphazard building of infrastructure is done because conservation of heritage is not mentioned in urban planning. It is about time that the authorities should realize that heritage is an important concept of a city, if the city has to live, it has to live with all its aspects.

In December 2010, the State Legislature passed the Jammu and Kashmir Heritage Conservation and Preservation Act (JKHCP) for conservation and preservation of heritage, both tangible and intangible including buildings, structures, monuments, precinct, areas/sites, artifacts, sculptures, paintings, handicrafts, manuscripts. According to the law, the state government needs to be notified by the authority or Municipal Commissioner or Collector or Director by notification in Government Gazette about the heritage of importance.

But that part of issuing notification by the concerned authorities has not taken off well, according to insights from the convener at INTACH. Under the same act, the urban development ministry and the local bodies were supposed to have heritage guidelines notification in the master plan but these regulations are open to interpretation. “The guidelines need to be implemented based on expert committee advice so that every master plan envisage the expert committee with the municipal corporation but it has not happened,” adds Beg.

Under the JKHCP, the authorities were meant to notify 1000 heritage sites but they have only notified 2-3 buildings, admits the former Director-General of Tourism.

Due to lack of awareness within the state government they don’t realize the importance of preservation of monuments. The municipal laws are defective and heritage-unfriendly.

  • The author is a correspondent with Kashmir Observer and can be reached at [email protected] 


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